Tag Archives: metal

Unearthed Elf – Into the Catacomb Abyss

unearthed-elf-into-the-catacomb-abyssYou are in a 20′ by 20′ room.

You see a metal band. They are singing about finding a vial of holy water in an ancient, cobweb-laden mausoleum.

What do you do?

Visigoth had one song called “The Dungeon Master”. Scottish power-metal heroes Gloryhammer released a concept album about an evil wizard and his army of undead unicorns. Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn made a solo album with a narrative that included an end-of-level monster. But with song titles like “Vial of Holy Water Found in an Ancient, Cobweb-Laden Mausoleum”, “Lighting the Mummy on Fire” and “Lair of the Beholder” has anyone released an album which sounds like an entire dungeon set to music?

Unearthed Elf is actually a solo project from Keith D of progressive doom metallers Arctic Sleep, largely written while he was incapacitated with a knee injury. As well as all the vocals and guitars, he plays all instruments, including the drums. As a concept album about the aforementioned Elf, the imagery in the lyrics and song titles would be little more than a gimmick if the music wasn’t up to scratch, but this is also a record with plenty to say musically.

It kicks off with the monstrous old-school metal riff of the title track, the densely layered, almost symphonic “Never See The Sun Again” and the atmospheric progressive-tinged “Eternal Night”, and those first three numbers set the tone for the record. What we have is a skilful mix of the textures of melodic death metal and old-school classic metal, with a dash of modern progressive rock adding sonic variety. The record eschews death-growls in favour of clean vocals throughout, with a couple of moments of Gregorian chant thrown in for good measure. There’s more than a hint of Mikael Akerfeldt about Keith D’s vocals, and the resulting sound has echoes of Opeth, Paradise Lost and Amorphis. It’s got a huge sound with multiple layers of guitars and vocals, and it manages to sound epic without being overblown.

Far more that just the soundtrack to a dungeon crawl, “Into the Catacomb Abyss” is an ambitious and impressive metal album. The album is released on October 31st, Halloween night.

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NWOBHM – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my latest in the “Ten of the Best”, on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

When it comes to scenes rather than individual bands it’s harder to decide what to include and what doesn’t quite fit. So though I mentioned them in passing I excluded bands like Motörhead on the grounds that represented the previous generation.. Likewise Magnum, who were again slightly older and never quite seemed part of the scene.

I compiled the list largely by identifying the significant bands and then choosing their defining songs. A few of the tracks chose themselves; Diamond Head’s monumental “Am I Evil” is the most obvious one, followed closely by Angelwitch’s eponymous song. In one or two cases I went for personal favourites, for example Demon’s “Father of Time”. For The Tygers of Pan Tang I chose “Don’t Stop By” for John Sykes magnificent solo.

When it came to the better-known bands I tried to avoid being too obvious. Def Leppard’s early single is there for it’s historical importance. With Saxon I decided to go for an album cut rather than one of their hit singles.

Aside from the bigger names there’s a whole slew of lesser bands, some of whom managed the occasional great song, and the comment section is highlighting a few of these that I missed. I’d forgotten “Dance to the Music” by Last Flight, though Quartz did make my longlist.

And no, there was no room for Sledgehammer.

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The Great Musical Divide

Iron Maiden Book of SoulsA couple of tweets from an acquaintance about the ubiquity of Iron Maiden and other classic rock and metal bands as background music in bars in Romania shows how mainland Europe has a quite different relationship with rock and metal compared to indie-dominated Britain. An equivalent bar in Britain would be playing Oasis or Ed Sheeran.

Especially in Eastern Europe, how much is this down to former Communist countries first encountering the music in a completely different context, such that it doesn’t carry the same cultural baggage as it does in Britain?

I know this is a recurring theme for me, but a big problem with British music is a critical establishment that defines every kind of popular music in terms of its relationship towards punk. A handful of snotty three-chord bands, or rather the pseudo-intellectual scribblers who worshipped them ended up casting a long shadow over everything that happened not only after 1977, but the years before. A lot of the narrative is revisionist nonsense, but it’s become the orthodoxy, endlessly repeated by those two young to have been there at the time. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative risks being written out of history.

Eastern Europe experienced none of that. The fall of the Berlin Wall bought a flood of Western music, such that the cheesiest hair-metal of that time is revered in the same way the 1960s British Invasion is revered in America. Songs like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” have a status that’s hard for people in Britain to imagine.

Although this doesn’t explain the huge popularity of metal in Scandinavia. So perhaps there’s another explanation?

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Extreme Metal and Critical Theory

Via the inimitable Peer-Reviewed, an academic paper on Extreme Heavy Metal Music and Critical Theory.

Extreme heavy metal music is transgressive, but can it be understood as resistant in Adorno’s sense of “serious music?” This article seeks to show how extreme heavy metal music approaches what Adorno valued in serious music and the interests of critical theory. I begin with the method of negative dialectics—a difficult and contradictory notion. The philosophy of negative dialectics is, I argue, crucial for the material studies informed by it. I consider next the idea of resistant music itself, distinguishing the negations of serious music from “positive” popular protest music. Finally, I provide an analysis of the negative dialectics of extreme heavy-metal music, considering the music and its culture in historical context. Overall, I offer a side-by-side “critical model,” in Adorno’s sense, of negative dialectics and heavy metal music and culture.

If somebody was to translate this from academic word-salad into readable English, this might actually be an interesting read. But given the inpenetrable nature of that extract, I think I’ll give it a miss and just listen to some music instead.

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So who played Dungeons and Dragons?

Interesting post on Crooked Timber about writers and D&D

David Mitchell said he always asks other writers whether they played Dungeons and Dragons as teenagers. He keeps a mental list of writers who did and who didn’t. He played D&D himself (surprise!) and feels a certain bond of with other writers who did.

Kazuo Ishiguro had never even heard of D&D. Not a surprise. He is the wrong generation. Too old. And also, he is that kind of very straight writer who conjures a pinch of the clothes peg when dabbling in ‘genre’.

I have wondered the same about musicians. There was an interview with the late great Ronnie James Dio when the interviewer noted the imagery of so much of his kyrics; “Holy Diver” could easily have been inspired by “A Paladin in Hell”. But Dio, like Kazuo Ishiguro, was a generation too old, and had never played the game.

The imagery from so much of world of power-metal suggests that the scene must be filled with past and present D&D players. The only surprise is that we have yet to see a song about gelatinous cubes. I am told that the infamous church-burning black metaller and convicted murderer Varg Vikernes has designed his own RPG, though gamers might not want to publicise that fact.

But what of the grassroots prog scene covered by this blog? Aside from Rob Ramsay of Tinyfish, who not only played D&D but still does, who else has played either D&D or another tabletop roleplaying game?  There are one or two names that come to mind immediately…

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Phil Anselmo and Racist Idiocy

There is very good piece in Metal Hammer on why Phil Anselmo’s ‘White Power’ outburst shouldn’t be ignored. Plenty of metal fans are quite disgusted with this, and as the Metal Hammer piece notes, it’s not an isolated incident; he’s got past form for this sort of thing. He really ought ton have know better and not be such an idiot.

I wouldn’t blame any concert promoters for refusing to work with him or festival organisers who’d rather not have him on the bill. Getting dropped from a festival or two might concentrate his mind. Like Eric Clapton’s infamous endorsement of Enoch Powell in the 70s, he deserves to have this haunt him for years.

I guess I’m lucky that none of my biggest musical heroes have said or done indefensible things while off their heads on drink or drugs. There are one of two people for whom the less I know about their socio-political views the better. And no, I’m not going to mention any names.

The cultural climate is such that the metal world needs to go into damage limitation mode at the moment. The worst-case scenario would be an outbreak of ignorant thinkpieces by the usual suspects who have little understanding of metal subculture using Anselmo’s drunken idiocy to denouce metal itself as inherently racist. That would be followed by the inevitable defensive reaction from knuckle-dragging idiots screeching “SJWs are attackig metal”.  The metal world can really do without an equivalent of the toxicity surrounding Gamergate.

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Think metal is dead? That’s your fault

There’s a hard-hitting if somewhat sweary editorial in Metal Hammer about the conservatism of some metal fans. Those people who refuse to accept that generations of bands since they came of age are actually producing great music, even if it doesn’t sound exactly like their favourite band when they were 17.

On the Metal Hammer website we cover pretty much everything considered metal – from Babymetal to Burzum – but 90% of the time the younger bands are being slaughtered in the comments section for daring to have a haircut not approved by the High Priests Of Metaldom or for not recreating Rust In Peace. The bastards. Like, how dare a band in 2016 have the tenacity, no the ignorance, to sound like something other than Megadeth?

It’s pointed out in the comments that the loud people on the internet may well be an unrepresentative and self-selecting sample, but there’s no denying that these people exist, and there are plenty of them. And not just in metal either; the prog world is full of them. It’s why so many 70s bands can play to full houses trotting out the same dreary old greatest hits set that they’ve been playing for the past twenty years while vastly better bands play to a few dozen. Great bands get dismissed as “Not proper Prog” because they don’t sound exactly like Pendragon.

People like this are one reason why so many festivals, from the huge Download to the far smaller Cambridge Rock Festival frequently end up with such conservative lineups, with acts who are well past their prime topping the bill. Meanwhile far better bands who might excel if given the chance of a headline spot themselves go on at 3pm.  Why, for example, have Nightwish never headlined a major festival in Britain?

It’s got to the point where you can tell exactly which age group the biggest proportion of attendees of any given festival fall into by whoever is headlining.

Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis thing, when you’re young enough to think everything still revolves around your generation but not quite old and wise enough to have reaslised that actually it doesn’t. But once you get past the wrong side of 50 is starts to get a lot harder to pretend that the heroes from your youth are still as good live those a generation younger. Sure, at a big festival or an arena gig they can still make a big spectacle with large-scale production values denied to “lesser” bands. But in smaller venues there’s nowhere to hide, and there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve seen a younger and hungrier support band completely blow some old-stagers away.

Anyway, go and read that Metal Hammer piece. And take a look at yourself and think about whether you are part of the problem.

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Quote of the Day

In a lengthy post entitled “Ethics” is advertising about western Buddhism and its relationship with socio-political tribes, David Chapman comes up with this gem:

In the ’60s and ’70s, hair length was a reliable badge. If you were a guy with long hair, you definitely liked tofu (or pretended to), and if you had a crew cut, you hated it (or were careful never to try it because that’s sissy food). This was highly efficient and a Good Thing. Then, in the ’80s, rural working-class heavy metal fans grew long hair, and that screwed everything up for everyone else.

Yes, blame metal for everything, won’t you?

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Fiasco at a Cashless Fesitval

A lot of rock festivals are going “cashless” with electronic pre-payment cards for all financial transactions on site. A big downside is the way it introduces a single point of failure that can cause things to go seriosuly pear-shaped when you have large volumes of people, with the worst case scenario being tens of thousands of people unable to buy food or drink.

And when it does, people will live-tweet the fiasco on social media.

Now, I’ve only got one person’s account of events to go on, but the comment that they managed to serve precisely four people in a half-hour period suggests something has gone badly wrong with the IT system.

It may have been hardware or software that hadn’t been tested under load. It may have been staff who were insufficiently trained in its use. But whatever it was, the end result was a customer service disaster.

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This Month’s Metal Roundup

A roundup of some recent metal releases that there hasn’t been time to review in full. We have both kinds of music here, heavy and metal.

Ecnephias

Ecnephias coverItalian occult metallers Ecnephias are a band with one foot in the metal camp and one foot in the gothic rock camp. Their self-titled album has echoes of The Sisters of Mercy as well as more metal sounds, the overall effect recalling mid-period Paradise Lost. Instrumentally it’s a great record, with strong dynamics, plenty of light and shade, and some impressively fluid guitar work. But it’s the vocals that let it down. They’re not good at judging when to use death-style growls and when to use clean vocals, frequently using growls on the parts which aren’t especially heavy, which doesn’t quite work. You’re left with a feeling that this would have been a stronger record had they used clean vocals more extensively. Still, when it all comes together, it can be excellent, as evidenced by the spiralling gothic “Nyctophilia” and “Vipra Negra” towards the end of the album.

Secrets of the Sky – Pathway

Secrets of the Sky - PathwayCalifornia’s Secrets of the Sky brew up a monstrous wall of sound with the album “Pathway”. The eleven-track album contains six actual songs interspersed with brief snippets of sound effects that go from crashing waves and thunderstorms to ominous footsteps. With no choruses or solos the songs instead take the form of dense soundscapes of layered guitars, doom-laden drums and washes of keys. Unlike Ecnephias they get the vocals dead right, evil-sounding growls for the heavy parts and clean vocals for the reflective, atmospheric moments. The end result is an intense and in places very heavy record where even the lighter parts can sound truly menacing.

Crest of Darkness – Evil Messiah

Crest Of Darkness coverNorwegian black metallers Crest of Darkness pull absolutely no punches on this four track EP, consisting of three originals plus one cover. The three original numbers, “Evil Messiah”, “Armageddon” and “Abandoned by God” are all piledrivingly heavy; in-your-face screamed vocals married to monstrous old-school metal guitars, often more than one great riff in one song, and the cover of Alice Cooper’s “Sick Things” is splendidly demented.

Nekrogoblikon – Heavy Meta

Nekrogoblikon-HeavyMeta-AlbumArtWe’ve had Viking Metal and Pirate Metal, now Goblin Metal is a thing. With song titles like “Snax & Violence”, “We Need A Gimmick” and “Full Body Xplosion” and a guest appearance from Andrew WK this is a band who don’t take themselves too seriously. Although vocalist Scorpion’s goblin-style vocals do wear a bit thin after a while, the varied, inventive and sometimes off-the wall instrumentation suggests they’re something more than a one-joke band, and they clearly sound as though their having great fun.

Angra – Secret Garden

0210096EMU_Angra_Secret-Garden_Cover_600x600And finally, something for those who can’t abide contemporary cookie monsters and insist on proper singing. veteran Brazilian power-metallers are back with an album filled with galloping hard rockers and epic power ballads, with big riffs, soaring melodies, jaw-dropping guitar soloing and occasional prog atmospherics. Former Rhapsody of Fire frontman Fabio Lione is on fine form on vocals, and the album also features guest appearances from Doro Pesch and Epica’s Simone Simons. It’s all very old-school, but very well done, with a polished production and enough solid songwriting that there’s no room for any filler.

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